The Shakespearean comedy is the tale of an unusual love triangle complete with farcical comedy, toilet humour and gender confusion. Twins Viola and Sebastian are shipwrecked and separated on the coast of Illyria. Viola disguises herself as a man and calls herself Cesario so she can serve the local Duke Orsino. She falls in love with Orsino, who in turn is in love with Countess Olivia, who in turn falls in love with Cesario. Cue confusion, comedy and carnage.
The set for Director Wils Wilson’s production is a rather quaint and roomy 1960s squat, complete with broken staircase, steam flowing through a hole in the wall, a couple of fireman's poles and garden. There’s also an array of instruments and music in there for good measure.
The cast, naturally, are hippies, eccentric lovers, fools, dreamers, and dressed as such. The 1960s were a time when ideologies, genders, and traditional roles were being challenged, so the connection with the Twelfth Night fits tightly. In Wilson’s production female characters, Olivia and Sir Toby Belch (transformed into riotous Lady Tobi), wear suits, while the men wear ambiguous, sparkling outfits, flamboyant coats, clothing or kimonos.
At its heart, Twelfth Night is a character play. The comedy is written into the characters and their relationships, and the show really comes down the casting. Here, the casting was flawless.
There were fantastic performances across the board but highlights included Guy Hughes' pitiful, perfectly-pitched Sir Andrew and his surprising musical talents, Dylan Read's tongue-twisting fool complete with wide-ranging vocal chords and of course Jade Ogugua's Viola, a fantastic centrepiece.
Our standouts though were Dawn Sievewright's mischievous, bellowing, unstoppable Lady Tobi who brought jokes to life and drew attention with every movement and Christopher Green's Malvolio. Green’s transformation from pompous steward to a character who wouldn’t have been out of place on RuPaul's Drag Race is something that will stick with you - we guarantee - for all the right reasons.
A lot of people are put off Shakespeare by the idea that they need to understand a deeper meaning, that it is “fine art” for the highly educated or pompous, and by the language. But when Malvolio identifies the handwriting of his Countess Olivia: “these be her very C’s, her U’s ‘n’ her T’s - and thus makes she her great P’s” there is no deeper meaning to it. You are very much laughing at an outlandish, ridiculous, ignorant character being made a fool by reading the word ‘cunt’. Make no mistake people, this is very much Shakespeare’s level as much as epic monologues and sonnets.
This co-production from the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and Bristol Old Vic embodies all this play was meant to do. It updates where appropriate and continues to blur the boundaries of gender roles, questions the depth of our love and how we pursue it, our treatment and bullying of outsiders, and the presentation, acting and delivery of the lines does a service to the language, to bring it out and portray it clearly, and in an accessible manner.
Malvolio’s big reveal - no spoilers - brought literal gasps and cries of laughter from the crowd, and when Green came out at that moment, I couldn’t help but think to myself “I think Shakespeare himself would enjoy this”. There seems little more that needs to be said than that.